Ways to Handle a Drug or Alcohol Craving

Managing cravings is a significant challenge during the recovery process. The intense urges can feel overwhelming and sudden. However, it’s important to remember that cravings can be managed. Developing effective strategies for handling cravings is crucial for a successful recovery. Below are some tactics for addressing cravings as they occur.

Accept It

When a craving arises, the first step is to acknowledge that cravings are common and unavoidable. Every individual in strong recovery has encountered cravings and likely continues to do so occasionally. Experiencing a craving does not indicate wrongdoing, failure, or an inevitable relapse; it is simply a regular part of the process. After being accustomed to using an addictive substance daily, possibly for an extended period, it is expected to feel the temptation to use it again occasionally. However, attempting to suppress or dismiss the urge will only intensify it. Embrace the fact that you are facing a craving and avoid feeling guilty about it but seek ways to address it.

Distract Yourself

Cravings are temporary and usually fade very quickly unless you focus on them. To avoid dwelling on a craving, engage in activities that demand your full concentration, such as working, reading, playing a video game, taking a walk, chatting with friends, or any other absorbing task. By redirecting your attention, you can effectively overcome the craving without struggling to suppress it.

Run Away

If a craving persists, there may be a triggering situation keeping it alive, such as being in a place that serves alcohol, being with someone you used to drink with, or being around someone who stresses you out. Leaving the situation is often the best course of action. For example, if you’re in the grocery store struggling to pass the liquor aisle, consider leaving. It’s important to understand your triggers to avoid and recognize them. Even if you’re unsure why the craving persists, a change of setting may help resolve the issue.

Examine Your Thinking

Our thoughts can often heighten cravings unnecessarily. When a craving arises, you might start thinking, “Oh no, a craving! This is terrible! I’ll never resist it!” This only adds to the stress of the craving and intensifies it. Instead, acknowledge it, as mentioned earlier, and observe your thoughts. Remind yourself that cravings come and go, and you’ll be okay in a few minutes. It’s also possible that a craving has emerged in response to stress unrelated to substance use. Perhaps you’re upset with someone or feeling overwhelmed at work. Notice your thoughts about these situations. Are you thinking that someone shouldn’t have treated you a certain way? Are you making your work situation out to be worse than it is? Recognizing and challenging cognitive distortions can reduce your stress and lessen the intensity of cravings.

Get Some Exercise

Engaging in physical activity is a highly effective method for managing cravings. It serves as a powerful distraction, particularly when the activity involves skill or social interaction, such as participating in a team sport. Additionally, exercise diminishes anxiety, enhances mood, and notably, bolsters emotional control and willpower. These advantages prove particularly valuable when faced with cravings. Simply taking a walk in your local area can assist in dispelling a craving, as within 20 minutes, it can be entirely forgotten.

Practice Mindfulness

When you feel a craving, one method to manage it is by mindfully examining it. Usually, people perceive a craving as a directive emanating from a subconscious level. It’s like an inner voice shouting “DRINK!” Automatically, you may either succumb to it or try to resist and dismiss it.

However, you can take a step back and observe the craving. What sensations does it provoke? Where in your body do you sense it? In your chest? Your stomach? Step back and analyze the sensation without making judgments or feeling obligated to act. Does it shift or evolve? As the sensation begins to diminish, release it. This becomes more effortless with daily mindfulness meditation practice. By regularly observing thoughts and sensations without becoming entangled in them, you’ll discover it’s simpler to endure even strong cravings.

Play The Tape

To combat cravings, consider employing the “play the tape” technique. When you experience cravings, your mind may distort reality, leading you to romanticize past substance use and entertain thoughts like “I’ve been clean for a while, one time won’t hurt.” To combat these temptations, mentally fast-forward and vividly envision the aftermath of giving in to the craving – the disappointment, family letdown, relapse, and restarting recovery. Revisit the reasons behind your sobriety to counter the allure of using again.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. At Transformations by the Gulf, we offer a safe and nurturing space to navigate negative emotions and practice coping skills that will support you in your recovery journey. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at (727)498-6498.

Are you struggling with addiction and want to learn more? Visit Psychology Today or check out or page on addiction treatments.